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Feb 19

Have Christian Bloggers Lost the Plot?

[bloggerpatron.jpg]I'm worried that Christian bloggers have lost the plot.

My grandfather used to say that the habits or faults of other people that annoy us the most may be ones we are also guilty of. I guess that was his atheistic Quaker version of Luke 6:41. I am very often reminded of that lesson and it has been an important part of my maturation process and growth in faith. It’s a lesson I have to relearn over and over again. It’s painful; the saying is true – no pain, no gain.

There are times (too many to count) God puts me in a situation in which I find myself correcting someone for a fault I too am guilty of. Sometimes I get sort of a “spider sense” feeling as I reprove a friend, knowing all the while that I’ll learn Pop-pop’s lesson before I’m through. Other times, I’m too blinded by my own self-righteousness to see what’s coming. It’s a very humbling a experience either way.

What I'm trying to say is that the irony of this post is not lost on me. How can I reprove others for a sin I'm just as guilty of? This isn't going to be a self-righteous lecture. If you insist on believing it is, then imagine me as the recipient rather than the deliverer.

If I had to summarize in one sentence the main reason I blog and how I choose what to blog about, I'd say that I'd like to help people stop begging questions, talking past one another, and calling each other silly and rude names, and start thinking critically, listening to one another, and treating each other with, at minimum, the same love they'd ask for themselves. That, of course, is easier said than done. Popular legend has it that G.K. Chesterton, among other eminent authors of his time, was asked by a newspaper to write an essay on the theme "What's Wrong with the World?" His reply? "I am." When it comes to the kind of acerbic and caustic blogging that I believe is poisoning the Body of Christ, and the rest of the world for that matter, I too am guilty. 

Recently, a troll disrupted a conversation related to an earlier post on this blog. I've had a troll before, but last time he was an atheist. This one is a Christian. Worse yet, it's somebody from my church. That bothers me. A lot. I have been wondering for several days what I did or said that earned this person's scorn. Then the thought occurred to me that the whole affair might have simply been a huge misunderstanding. Perhaps the troll was trying to be funny and didn't noticed he'd crossed any lines.

"According to recent research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, I've only a 50-50 chance of ascertaining the tone of any e-mail message. The study also shows that people think they've correctly interpreted the tone of e-mails they receive 90 percent of the time."

"'That's how flame wars get started,' says psychologist Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago, who conducted the research with Justin Kruger of New York University. 'People in our study were convinced they've accurately understood the tone of an e-mail message when in fact their odds are no better than chance,' says Epley."

[…]

"'People often think the tone or emotion in their messages is obvious because they 'hear' the tone they intend in their head as they write,' Epley explains."

"At the same time, those reading messages unconsciously interpret them based on their current mood, stereotypes and expectations. Despite this, the research subjects thought they accurately interpreted the messages nine out of 10 times."

I'm certain everything learned about email in this study could be applied to blog post and comments.  So maybe my would-be troll was misunderstood by and/or misunderstood his fellow commenters.  Then again, maybe he was exhibiting cyber-disinhibition.

"Communication via the Internet can mislead the brain's social systems. The key mechanisms are in the prefrontal cortex; these circuits instantaneously monitor ourselves and the other person during a live interaction, and automatically guide our responses so they are appropriate and smooth. A key mechanism for this involves circuits that ordinarily inhibit impulses for actions that would be rude or simply inappropriate — or outright dangerous."

"In order for this regulatory mechanism to operate well, we depend on real-time, ongoing feedback from the other person. The Internet has no means to allow such realtime feedback (other than rarely used two-way audio/video streams). That puts our inhibitory circuitry at a loss — there is no signal to monitor from the other person. This results in disinhibition: impulse unleashed. "

"Such disinhibition seems state-specific, and typically occurs rarely while people are in positive or neutral emotional states. That's why the Internet works admirably for the vast majority of communication. Rather, this disinhibition becomes far more likely when people feel strong, negative emotions. What fails to be inhibited are the impulses those emotions generate."

"This phenomenon has been recognized since the earliest days of the Internet (then the Arpanet, used by a small circle of scientists) as 'flaming,' the tendency to send abrasive, angry or otherwise emotionally 'off' cyber-messages. The hallmark of a flame is that the same person would never say the words in the email to the recipient were they face-to-face. His inhibitory circuits would not allow it — and so the interaction would go more smoothly. He might still communicate the same core information face-to-face, but in a more skillful manner. Offline and in life, people who flame repeatedly tend to become friendless, or get fired (unless they already run the company)."

Rey, of The Bible Archive, seems to have figured this out a long time ago.

"For some reason, when people go online and put on the veil of anonymity they tend to ignore any of the rules that govern common society. Civility gives way to sarcasm. a Patience gives way to brevity. The tongue is fully unleashed through the fingertips and the typist revels in his own wisdom."

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